Food is a connector. It connects families across generations and around the globe.
For me, food has always been a way to connect "there and then" with "here and now," to capture memories and recreate them in my own home. Cooking traditional Jewish food, like brisket or latkes immediately brings me back to my grandparents' house. I can see the windows fogging up as the house fills with the warm smells of comfort food. I can feel the love of my ancestors, whose dreams are being fulfilled with each home cooked meal.
While brisket and latkes are yummy and certainly traditional, there is a whole new generation of Jewish home cooks combining traditional Jewish foods with traditional American flavors. This Jewish-American food mashup was really kicked off by chefs like Michael Solomonov with his Philadelphia restaurant Abe Fisher, featuring its elevated take on foods of the Jewish diaspora.
I remember sitting down at Abe Fisher with my grandparents. The first appetizer on the menu was a play on peanut butter-and-jelly but with chicken-liver mousse instead of peanut butter. I recall my grandfather immediately exclaiming that, despite how much he loves chopped liver, he wasn't so sure about this appetizer. Then, came the complimentary savory rugelach. A waiter opened what looked like a cigar box, containing spinach and artichoke rugelach as an amuse buche. "This," I thought, "this is what being Jewish and American is all about."
Fast-forward four years, to March of 2020. I am sitting in the living room of my apartment in Redondo Beach, with my then boyfriend (now husband!). The stay-at-home orders have just come down like a hammer. Do not go outside… or see anyone besides your immediate household…or get on an airplane. I was now stuck 2,000 miles away from most of my Chicago-area family and all of the comforts of home. I needed a strong connection, something I could feel, smell, and taste.
Food was going to be my connector. In those early days of the pandemic, I would call my grandma and chat for hours, asking questions about where certain recipes came from, how she makes them, and the memories I associated with each of them. I craved the experience of walking into her house, making a beeline for the kitchen, rolling up my sleeves, and jumping into whatever recipe was being made. I craved the learning, the intergenerational connection, and the family time.
So, I started a Jewish baking blog. There, and on the ensuing Instagram account, I found a community of people, who were also separated from their loved ones and craving the comforts of home. They were also creating amazing recipes that ignited in me that same excitement I felt at Abe Fisher. We were all creating something uniquely Jewish American. On our respective website and social-media channels, we began to exchange our mothers' and grandmothers' recipes. Our comfort foods. Our connections to home and family.
These recipes inspired me to create my "United States Tour of Hamentashen." I began researching the different regions of the country and what foods they were famous for. I reached out to my newfound friends across the Jewish food community. I created recipes ranging from Black & White Cookie Hamentashen representing the delis of New York City all the way to Key Lime Hamentashen representing the state of Florida.
Of course, we can't leave out this Chicago native's favorite local take…. my Deep Dish Hamentaschen:
Deep Dish Hamentaschen
Yield: 9 Inch Pizza
2 cups warm water
1 T instant yeast
1 T granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup corn oil
28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 T dried oregano
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ lb of sliced mozzarella cheese
2 T cornmeal
A sprinkle of parmesan cheese to taste
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water, the yeast, and the sugar.
Add all of the remaining ingredients except for the cornmeal and oil, and begin to mix the dough on low speed.
Once a ball is formed, and the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, continue to mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.
Remove from the mixer and place in a bowl coated with oil. Allow the dough to rest for approximately 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, add all tomato sauce ingredients into a Dutch oven. Cook over medium-high heat until it has reduced by three quarters of its volume.
Preheat the oven to 425 degree F.
Once the dough is rested, place on a flat surface, dusted with cornmeal. Roll out the dough into an 8-10 inch circle. Arrange the sliced cheese into a triangle in the center of the dough, make sure to layer to at least ½ inch thickness.
Fold the bottom of the circle up so that it covers the bottom ½ inch of the cheese triangle. Repeat for the other two sections of dough until a triangle is created.
Ladle the tomato sauce in the middle over the cheese. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.
Serve pizza straight from the oven to ensure the best cheese pull!
Marissa Wojcik is the founder of the Jewish baking blog North Shore to South Bay (northshoretosouthbay.com), where she shares her modern and updated versions of beloved Jewish classics.